Encourage Pre-Braille Skills in Your Student!
Learning Braille is a process that opens up the world for a student experiencing blindness. Before your student is ready to learn the tactile alphabet, however, they’ll need to learn pre-Braille skills that promote their perception and awareness with their hands. While ages can vary on Braille learners for a variety of reasons, preschool students can begin learning pre-Braille skills. In cases where the student is a candidate for learning Braille, students can begin learning the alphabet by age 5 if they’ve passed their assessments.
If you have a young Braille student, you’ll benefit from helping your student practice these pre-Braille skills at home.
Strong motor skills are required for any child before they begin writing. For sighted students, they would need to be able to learn how to properly use their hands in order to position a pencil correctly. For Braille students, their motor skills not only need to be geared towards learning how to be aware of their hand’s positioning and strength, but also how to use their hands to “visualize” objects. Students need to be able to differentiate between sizing and texture with their hands. This will also include tracking; the motion of using your pointer fingers to read Braille sentences left to right.
Building strength and control in their hands gets them ready to use a Brailler, while helping a student develop perception in their hands and appropriately tracking gets them ready for reading Braille. This article is specifically designed to go over a few ideas that NBCF uses in the classroom to promote pre-Braille skills, but if you’re looking for what’s to come, check out the following article to learn more about the later process of learning Braille.
Visualizing with Our Hands
Activities that promote pre-Braille skills are vital to a student’s success. This includes finger strength, fine motor skills, tracking and knowing the alphabet. NBCF’s preschool always stresses the importance of a routine, and there’s no exception here with learning these skills. For pre-Braille skills, there’s a gradual progression to build on. Here’s the typical schedule we use:
- Teaching Rough and Smooth
- Teaching Soft and Hard
- Teaching Small or Big
- Sorting by Specific Characteristics
- Teaching Same or Different
We focus on these concepts in the classroom a week at a time. You want to make sure that the concept has been fully grasped before moving on to the next subject. Begin by showing what one characteristic is by letting them feel objects that describe it; i.e. rough objects could include the rough side of a sponge, textured fabric, sandpaper, the edge of a key, rocks, tree bark, bricks, etc… Once your child gets the idea of one concept down, you can move onto the opposite characteristic; i.e. smooth objects could include satin ribbons, candles, plastic or glass cup, dinner plate, door, the top of a table, etc…
Continue going over the listed characteristics and why they’re different from each other. You can even pair this lesson with your child’s lesson plan at school. Find ways to continue to promote this education in their home life by asking the questions throughout the day. For example, if you’re on a walk, find objects that fit the characteristic and ask your child to describe them; i.e. “Is this rock rough or smooth?”
The main purpose of this is to teach your student what they need to be aware of and why it’s different. It’s important to practice these concepts everyday to ensure your child is understanding. This will translate later when they’re trying to feel for Braille.
If your student will be learning Braille, there’s a good chance they’ll start off by using the Perkins Brailler. These machines are like an old typewriter and can be pretty heavy to use. It’s important they have finger strength to be to use it! In addition, building their motor skills will help with their tracking ability.
Different activities will engage different parts of the hand. If you’re looking to work more with the palms, activities like playing with Play Doh or clay would be your best option.
If you want to work on skills involving the thumb and fingers, try making beaded bracelets with your child, picking up small objects or building with blocks.
Texas School for the Blind and Visually Impaired has a list of more motor activities with tons of creative exercises you can do with your child. You can download it here and you can also check out their website for more ideas!
Tracking is the final thing we’d recommend practicing when possible. Before your child can start Brailling themselves, they’ll need to be comfortable knowing how to read Braille on paper. Tracking is the motion of putting both pointer fingers together and using them to read Braille across the page, left to right.
To better understand how we practice tracking skills in the classroom, take a look at this video of Ms. Diane working with a student!
In this video, Ms. Diane is going over how to track the letter G. In this instance, the student is figuring out which Braille letter is different than the others on the sheet. While they mark these differences with a crayon, which works well for children with low vision, you can also mark with small tactile stickers if your child has total blindness.
If you don’t have any Brailled material, you should always be able to ask your child’s teacher for practice sheets or assignment. Practicing tracking with your student and helping them figure out the differences between the Braille letters on a sheet of paper gets them more familiar with the tactile alphabet.
These are just the beginning building blocks to helping your student gain pre-Braille skills. If you’re looking for more resources, feel free to contact our Family Advocate, Megan Philippi, at email@example.com.